Press regulation special – Crisis? What crisis?

Clever old Ian Hislop (editor of Private Eye and bona fide national treasure). Yes, once again he’s parodying proposals for press regulation:

Very amusing. And reassuringly squirming he was the other night on TV, when he confessed his discomfort at finding himself on the same side as Rupert Murdoch, Paul Dacre and other creepy things.  But press freedom, Ian went on to insist, is worth defending, even if it does mean you have to keep some deeply nasty company.

But alas, what is missing from this picture? How about:

  1. It includes no recognition that the press brought this upon themselves.
  2. It ignores the fact that large swathes of the press (and no on believes it’s just the Murdoch press – least of all Ian Hislop) behave like/consist of a) criminals and b) pornographers (which is how I would describe the whole Milly Dowler case).
  3. The freedom of the  press is largely bogus, as the freedom in question is only the freedom of a small number of rich and deeply suspect men to dominate our awareness of the world.
  4. It’s true that our politicians are hardly likely to do a better job of regulating the press than the press themselves, but could they do a worse one? And the politicians do have the merit that the public have at least a smidgen of power over them if they get it wrong, as opposed to the exactly zero control we can exercise over the press.
  5. I see no sign (in Private Eye or anywhere else in the press) of a realistic solution that will go any way towards preventing this disgusting behaviour from being repeated endlessly. Just howling that regulation is just political control by the back door is a) not all that credible and b) not going to solve a problem that the press have brought on themselves.

No answer to any of the above, Ian? Then you have nothing useful to say.

Or how about a campaign by Private Eye to limit the number of national newspapers or TV stations any corporation can own to one? That way we would at least get a wider range of oligarchs preaching to us.

An interesting question arises from all this, of course. If we could replace the phrase ‘regulation by politicians’ with ‘regulation by representatives of the people’, would it improve the matter? I think it would (though it would not eliminate it altogether).  So why can’t we? Because no one would believe it. Just as freedom of the press is only a freedom exercised by the very rich to pursue their own interests, so our politicians, supposedly representatives of the people, do not represent the people. If they represent anyone at all, it is their donors – who are, for the Tories, mostly the very rich, and for Labour, mostly trades unions. Who would claim that either represent the people? (Try here for the details of party contributions.)

Hence the real crisis this crisis has revealed: that in our democratic and open society, power is shared between politicians the people do not trust and media that cannot be expected to report or analyse in any way that is inconsistent with the interests of a small group of billionaires and corporations. Which, as the tentacles of business insinuate themselves ever more deeply into our world, is practically anything of any significance to the people.

Now that’s a crisis we should all be concerned about.

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